What’s In A Surname?

Last week’s post –  What’s In A Name?   – which was was an updated and reworked version of a piece from 2016 about the meaning of my first name, generated quite a few comments from fellow bloggers about their own names. This was great: I really enjoyed the interaction and finding out where others’ names derived from. Back in 2016 I also wrote a companion piece on my surname, as it has a little history attached to it, and it seemed that it would be a natural follow up to last week to share again what I wrote about that name.

Pilch, in Norwich, as modelled by my daughter Katy
Pilch, in Norwich, as modelled by my daughter Katy

In case you hadn’t previously noticed (there was a major clue in last week’s post!) my surname is Pilcher. This name is largely native to East Kent, the part of England from which I come. I’ve not seen a recent telephone directory but when I was growing up there were two pages of us. You’d be hard-pressed to find more than five Pilchers in most other directories. The shorter version ‘Pilch’ is common in East Anglia, and was until recently the name of a long-established sports goods store in Norwich (now rebranded as Jarrold Intersport). Many UK surnames which end in ‘-er’ derive from a trade: Baker and Butcher are obvious examples of this. Less obvious examples are Cooper, a maker of barrels, and Fletcher – the man who made arrows. Or you could have Turner – unsurprisingly, this was the man who worked the lathe. Or for a really obvious one, try ‘Parker’ – yes, it really does mean the man who looks after the park. At its most basic, Pilcher is no different from these: he was the man who made a Pilch. You could be forgiven for not knowing what one of these is, or was, as the term – and the item of clothing to which it refers – has long gone out of fashion. A pilch was a kind of loincloth, usually made of animal skin with the fur still on it, and use of the name can be traced back as far as the 13th century. In all probability it is even older than that, but I haven’t yet been able to find an episode of What Not To Wear or How To Look Good Naked(ish) that goes far enough back to enlighten me on this. It is thought that it derives from the pre-7th century Olde English word ‘pylece,’ which means a skin or hide. It is recorded in several other forms including Pelcher, Pilchere, and the French Pelchaud, Pelcheur, and Pelchat, and is clearly an Anglo-French surname. Given the proximity of France to Dover, where I was born, this perhaps explains why there are so many Pilchers in that part of the country. As well as the maker and seller of pilches, the name could also be given to someone who wore them. We don’t appear to have a modern day equivalent of this, unless you know of anyone called Nappyer or Trusser. And for American readers, I don’t think Diaper counts!

In later years “pilcher” apparently became a popular term of abuse, being associated with the unrelated word “pilch”, meaning to steal, and the equally unrelated noun “pilchard”, a type of fish. Whilst some name-holders may originate from habitual use of these various terms, I like to think that my family origins belong to a noble tradesman rather than a thief!

And in a complete detour, I mentioned last week that I was known as Pilch by many schoolfriends, but also Glen, because of this, which was heavily advertised at that time:
My surname?

As I’ve mentioned, the name goes back as far as the 13th century: recordings of the surname include Hugh Pilchere, who appears in the tax registers (known as the Feet of Fines) of Cambridgeshire in 1275, and Henry le Pilchere in the Subsidy Rolls of Worcestershire in the same year. Church records list the marriage of Henry Pilcher to Jane Empsley on June 2nd 1572 in Borden, Kent, whilst in France Henri Pelchat appears in the town of Bourg L’Eveque, department of Maine-et -Loire, on July 26th 1708. The first known recorded spelling of the family name is that of Mabilia Pullchare, which was dated 1214, in the “Feet of Fines of Essex”, during the reign of King John, 1199 – 1216. (I’m indebted to The Internet Surname Database at http://www.surnamedb.com for this information).

Whilst my name isn’t particularly special or famous, I rather like it and the fact that it has so much history attached to it. The only famous Pilcher that I know of is the author Rosamunde Pilcher, but no doubt there are others. After all, we’ve had long enough to make our mark in the world! Why not try following your own name back into history, perhaps by clicking the database link? You may find something interesting and surprising that you hadn’t come across before. And I set you the challenge of finding a name that has a meaning going back further than the 7th century!

What’s In A Name?

Back in February 2016, in the long-lost days when WordPress used to give a daily prompt, they did one called Say Your Name.  “Write about your first name: Are you named after someone or something? Are there any stories or associations attached to it? If you had the choice, would you rename yourself?”

This sounded very familiar, so I did a little checking and found that I had posted to an almost identical prompt on 1 June 2013. On the assumption that most of you weren’t here all those years ago – either in 2013 or 2016 – and won’t therefore have read those posts, I decided it was time for one of my rework and republish jobs. My follower numbers are around double what they were four years ago, and are far greater than in 2013, so I think I’m working on the basis of a safe assumption!

Me. Apparently.
Me. Apparently.

As you’ve probably noticed my name is Clive, which according to every source I can find means ‘cliff’ or ‘slope’  and is usually believed to refer to someone who lived near one of these. The name is of English origin, and was first found around the 11th century. I feel old!  It is apparently quite uncommon as a first name, but is more in use as a surname.  The most famous example of this is probably General Sir Robert Clive – or ‘Clive of India’ as he is more widely known. I’ve always understood that my parents chose the name as it couldn’t be abbreviated – an approach they seem to have abandoned by the time my duo-syllabic sister came along. However, I was born in Dover, which has a few White Cliffs nearby, so maybe they knew something?

Almost.......
Almost…….

I have also found that there is a small town and parliamentary electorate called Clive in the Hawke’s Bay Region of New Zealand. This was named after the General, rather than me, though. And something I never even thought possible: I’m an acronym. Yes, CLIVE stands for Computer-aided Learning IVeterinary Education. So, after all this time, I finally have proof that I really am the mutt’s nuts!

My surname?
My surname?

My parents’ plan met with debatable success. Whilst I was always ‘Clive’ at home, apart from the times when I was ‘Clive Howard Pilcher!!!!’ – usually a signal to make myself scarce – no one at school ever managed to shorten my name. They simply didn’t use it at all! I answered most to ‘Chip,’ which of course came from my initials (see above) and also to Pilch – if they couldn’t abbreviate my first name, why not go for the surname instead? And thanks to a major TV advertising campaign of the 60s and 70s I was also known as ‘Glen’ – the clue is in the picture. As I answered to all three nicknames as well as my real name, you can imagine the confusion when opposing football teams were trying to work out who my own team were calling to! You may have spotted that I’m attached to ‘Chip,’ which has also been a pet name for me for a number of people, not just in my schooldays. I keep it to this day as part of some of my online incarnations, i.e. Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Would I change my name? For what is probably an old-fashioned reason, i.e. that it is what my parents chose for me and I feel it would be disrespectful to them to change it, I wouldn’t: I’ve had 66+ years with it and I quite like it. It feels a little special to me, particularly as I rarely come across another with the same name, although I’ve found a couple of other Clives in the blog world. It’s not as if I’ve been lumbered with something embarrassing anyway. Never have I been more grateful that my parents have only been celebrities to me, not in the wider world! Calling your son ‘Marion’ for example? What would he do with that?  The reverse seems to be true of modern-day celebrities, many of whom seem to be competing for a ‘most stupid child’s name’ prize.

It isn’t just a recent trend, either. Going back to the 60s there was Frank Zappa, whose four children delight in the names Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva. It’s not as if dear old Frank was strange at all, is it? One sounds like an insect repellent, while another appears to have been some kind of advance personality diagnosis. Into the 70s and along came Zowie Bowie, who understandably prefers to use the ‘Duncan Jones’ part of his full name in his film industry career. Another product of the songwriter’s ability for rhyming is Rolan Bolan, whose real surname is actually ‘Feld.’ I guess Held Feld or Smeld Feld were just too silly.

Bob and Terry
Bob and Terry – a joke 20 years before ‘Brooklyn’

In recent years we have many wonderful examples of celebrity parental idiocy. So many in fact that I could do a whole piece on them. But I’ll content myself by just making fun of a couple of the more obvious ones! The Beckhams’ reason for choosing Brooklyn as the name for their first born perhaps shows a love of the 60s TV series The Likely Lads and the 70s follow up (remember ‘Robert Scarborough Ferris’?). It’s probably as well that the act didn’t take place in Peckham. But Beckenham might have been nice.

My other chosen example is Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, who thought it a good idea to call their children ‘Apple’ and ‘Moses.’ It’s a real shame that they ‘consciously uncoupled,’ as now we’ll never get ‘Microsoft’, ‘Android’ or ‘God,’ will we?

And if you’ll indulge my diversion a little longer, I wonder where this could go next. Maybe we could get children’s names being sponsored by advertisers? ‘Direct Line Keitel?’ ‘Nespresso Clooney?’ ‘EE Bacon?’  And even without celebrity appearances and voiceovers, I’m looking forward to the first kid called ‘Moonpig’ or ‘MoneySupermarket.’ And we mustn’t forget the practice of choosing names based on favourite TV programmes and characters – anyone for Sherlock, Downton, Strictly or, simply, Who?

I’ve sidetracked myself some way from where I began. But apart from taking the chance to have a pop at idiots, there’s a serious point in here somewhere. As I’ve said, I wouldn’t change my name – it’s part of me, my identity, who I am. Why should I or anyone want to change that? We all go through difficult times now and then, when we may well wish we were someone or somewhere else. But if we were able to conjure ourselves into another persona we’d be giving up our identities, wouldn’t we? Our names are part of us, part of our culture and heritage. And giving up on yourself is something no one should ever do.

Marion
Marion

And in case you didn’t know, that boy named Marion was born Marion Morrison, but became John Wayne. Hardly surprising, really, as “Kindly dismount and have a cup of camomile tea” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

For Remembrance Sunday 2019

As I get older I find that I am moved to tears more often than I used to be. I have no idea why that should be: do we become more sensitive with age, or are our tear ducts more active? Whatever the reason, I found it happening to me on Friday morning as I watched the BBC’s Breakfast programme. In the run up to Remembrance Sunday they ran a piece about a gentleman called Harry Billinge: Harry is 93 and is a veteran of the Normandy landings – i.e. D-Day – and is collecting money for a memorial to those who gave their lives there. They also featured Harry as part of their programme earlier this year, marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On both occasions he was interviewed at some length, and both times this wonderful man has moved me to tears. Within an hour or so of today’s broadcast someone had uploaded the full interview to YouTube, and I share it now for you, in case you haven’t seen it before. It is eleven minutes long, but is well worth your time to watch it:

Harry doesn’t like to be called a hero – he says he was one of the lucky ones, those who returned from the beaches. But his story is compelling. Just an ordinary man, he was, as he says, ‘taught by this lovely country to kill people,’ and describes it all as ‘what a waste of life.’ In those brief phrases he encapsulates the horror and futility of war. I was born in Dover in 1953, just eight years after the end of WW2. Due to its proximity to the French mainland, and being on the flight path to London, Dover suffered horribly: 2,226 shells and 464 bombs landed in or around the town, 216 civilians were killed, and I grew up with everyday reminders of the destruction that war brings. 10,056 premises were damaged, many of them so badly that they had to be demolished. This little clip gives you a brief idea of what the town went through: Pathe News jingoism at its finest!  There were many bomb sites where there had been buildings, and regeneration was progressing rapidly. But we had, on our doorstep, a living history lesson, and I have always carried that with me through my lifetime. This photo was taken in 1940 just down the road from where I lived for the first 20 months of my life, not that I knew it like this, of course:

Snargate Street, Dover ©️Kent Messenger

Even 20 years after that photo there were still sites boarded up. The rubble had been cleared, and a major rebuilding programme was in progress. This was happening across the UK and throughout Europe, and I hope we never see anything like it again. Such a waste of resources, but even that becomes insignificant when compared with the huge number of lives that were lost.

I mentioned that Harry had also been a part of Breakfast’s D-Day 75th anniversary programme. Again, in case you missed it, here it is:

If you can watch that without a tear or two in your eye, I can only say that your heart is harder than mine!

A year or two back I came across a little poem which addresses the point that, so many years on, there are far fewer who lived through those times and, therefore, there is a risk that we will begin to forget the sacrifices made by so many so that we can live a free life today. I hope this will never be the case, and that what the poet describes won’t happen:


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

(Taken from ‘For The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, September 1914)

 

We should never forget.